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Editorials from around New York

September 19, 2018

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:

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The New York Post on “consolation judgeships”

Sept. 18

Days after Democratic voters benched state Sens. Jeff Klein (Bronx) and Jesse Hamilton (B’klyn) in favor of new blood, party insiders are looking to move both men to the judicial bench. It’s rancid.

After The Post broke the news, Brooklyn and Bronx party officials pooh-poohed the idea. But Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz, the Bronx Democratic Party secretary, argues that sending Klein to the bench is “a natural assumption.”

Nor would these be the first losing pols to win “consolation judgeships.”

Party bosses (including Republicans in parts of the state) have huge say over who gets judgeships (and other posts) and often fill them for reasons that have little to do with qualifications. It can be a golden parachute for a still-connected insider, a way to get a name off of the ballot or a gesture to avoid lasting bad blood.

In 2015, the Bronx machine installed its choice (Darcel Clark) as county DA by having the incumbent “retire” to the bench just a week after the Democratic primary. That avoided any risk that the voters would veto the insiders’ pick.

And of course machine control of judgeships regularly leads to Surrogate Court corruption, as politically connected lawyers get tapped to control estates they proceed to loot.

Pols and other hacks can turn out to be good judges — but more by coincidence than design. Anyone claiming to be a reformer who doesn’t call for changing this system is a phony.

Online: https://nyp.st/2OFbaZn

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The Leader-Herald on public school spending in Detroit

Sept. 17

Politicians in the big-government crowd would have us believe that spending tons of money on public schools is the way to ensure children get good educations. Really? Ask parents in Detroit about that.

At $14,259, Detroit public schools’ per-pupil spending is the eighth-highest of the 100 largest school districts in the nation. Yet 50 of the city’s public schools have been put on a list for special state attention, due to poor academic performance of students.

And last week, things got worse. Students in 34 Detroit schools were told that if they want water, it will have to come from bottles or special coolers installed by the district. Water in their buildings’ plumbing systems is not safe to drink, because of high levels of lead and copper.

Unlike the situation in nearby Flint, Mich., the problem in Detroit is not the water coming into the buildings. It is aged pipes and fixtures within them.

Fully one-third of Detroit school buildings have been neglected so badly that their plumbing systems may be hazardous to students’ health.

How is it that Detroit can spend so much money on public schools and not even have safe buildings? Taxpayers there should be asking that. Those elsewhere should remember that throwing money at a problem may not solve it.

Online: https://bit.ly/2PNdkpK

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The New York Times on the Trump administration’s rollback of environmental protections

Sept. 16

As if this past summer of merciless heat waves, droughts and megafires were not warning enough, in the past several days the elements sounded another alarm about the state of a world made warmer by the burning of fossil fuels. It came in the form of a one-two punch of wind and rainfall from Hurricane Florence, which like Hurricane Harvey a year ago, has derived much of its wallop from unusually warm ocean waters and stalled weather systems linked to climate change. “Supercharged” is the word one prominent climate scientist, Michael Mann, used to describe Florence, echoing the findings of the federal Global Change report in 2014 that, along with a rise in other extreme weather events, “hurricane intensity and rainfall are projected to increase as the climate continues to warm.”

To no one’s surprise, this linkage went unacknowledged in President Trump’s Washington. Quite the contrary. On Tuesday, in a further retreat from President Barack Obama’s ambitious promises to reduce America’s emissions of the greenhouse gases deemed largely responsible for global warming, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed weakening rules aimed at reducing leaks of methane from oil and gas operations. Methane, a principal component of natural gas, is a short-lived but potent greenhouse gas that represents about 9 percent of this country’s total greenhouse gas emissions; one-third of it comes from oil and gas operations.

Though the changes seem small — reducing the frequency of inspections and fixes to wells and pipelines, for instance — they may well presage an administration decision to get out of the business of regulating methane altogether. (The Interior Department, in a companion move, is soon expected to release its own proposal to roll back Obama-era rules regulating the venting and flaring of methane from drilling operations on the millions of acres under its control.)

The change in the methane rule is just plain dumb. The savings to industry would be trivial, $75 million a year by the Environmental Protection Agency’s estimates, a rounding error for the powerful oil industry. The industry could in fact end up a loser, since captured methane can be sold at a profit. Moreover, leaking methane undercuts the industry’s claim that natural gas can be a bridge fuel to a cleaner energy future. Though the burning of natural gas emits only about half the carbon dioxide of coal, the leak rate — as high as 2.3 percent, according to studies organized by the Environmental Defense Fund — erodes much of that advantage.

Finally, and most sadly, the change pretty much completes the demolition job on Mr. Obama’s climate strategy: the rollback of automobile fuel efficiency standards announced in August; the planned repeal, also announced last month, of Mr. Obama’s Clean Power Plan aimed at reducing emissions from coal-fired power plants; and now the methane pullback. These three programs, plus an effort to regulate climate-forcing gases used in refrigerants, formed the basis for Mr. Obama’s pledge at the 2015 climate summit in Paris to reduce America’s greenhouse gas output by 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.

To redeem that pledge — and to reassure the other signatories of the Paris agreement that much of America still cares about climate change — was the purpose of the Global Climate Action Summit, an extraordinary gathering last week of 4,000 or so climate advocates, foreign dignitaries, investors and state and local officials. The meeting, co-hosted by Gov. Jerry Brown of California and Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor, was a bright spot in a week dominated by atmospheric fury in the Carolinas and political fecklessness in Washington.

Unlike the Paris summit, the meeting had no power to set goals or to legally commit anyone to do anything to reduce emissions. What it did have was messaging power. And the message was one of defiance as well as concern.

According to a report prepared for the conference, the states, cities and businesses that have joined the cause — what Mr. Brown and Mr. Bloomberg call the “coalition of the willing” — now represent over half the population of the United States, over half the American economy and more than a third of its nationwide greenhouse gas emissions. Thanks partly to their efforts (plus, of course, market forces, not least the declining cost of renewable energy sources and the switch in the power sector from coal generation to natural gas), the United States is almost halfway to meeting Mr. Obama’s Paris pledge. Simply honoring existing commitments and policies at the state and local level will get the country two-thirds of the way there.

The tough part is the rest of the journey, and to that end, the report offers strategies that it believes state and local governments can undertake without any help from Mr. Trump. Most are familiar: tougher ordinances to encourage more energy-efficient buildings, stronger state mandates for renewable energy sources like wind and solar power, more rapid deployment of electric vehicles (as California requires) and efforts to begin phasing out the super-polluting compounds used in commercial and residential cooling systems. And, as if in direct rebuke to Mr. Trump, the group called for new and tougher state and local regulations to stop methane leaks from oil and gas wells and municipal distribution systems.

Uniting these leaders is a belief that human ingenuity can lead us out of a predicament that humans have helped create and a faith in collective action that is almost impossible to find on the Potomac.

Online: https://nyti.ms/2NhIyZf

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The Poughkeepsie Journal on highway signs

Sept. 17

Those following closely had to realize there would be at least one more crazy twist in the verbal brawl between New York and federal officials over what are appropriate highway signs.

Despite warnings from the federal government, state officials installed the “offending” signs in 2016 and could be out $14 million in highway money if they are not removed by the end of this month.

The state really wanted to post these signs. So much, in fact, that the state Department of Transportation was willing to use emergency highway contracts — shelling out thousands of dollars in overtime costs as a result — to get most of them up led before the July 4 weekend in 2016. By the project’s end, the state Department of Transportation and Thruway Authority had spent $8.1 million, or about $15,500 for each sign.

Yet, all along, the U.S. Highway Administration officials have repeatedly said the approximate 500 signs violated federal law. The Love NY highway signs have been posted in groups of five — a “motherboard” followed by signs touting attractions, places to eat and drink and recreation. Federal officials say this clustering contains contain so much information that drivers could become distracted. They also say in some cases the signs are too big and offer no navigational information. The Gov. Andrew Cuomo administration has retorted that the signs are part of a broader tourism strategy that has paid dividends for New York.

While this sounds like a big, broad fight, the USA Today Network’s Albany Bureau has dug through some emails and draft proposals to get a glimpse of how small-minded the behind-the-scenes negotiations have been about this.

They show the disagreement has focused on a single italicized word on the signs - the final word of the phrase “The New York State Experience.” The state wants to keep it in italics, but the federal regulators say it affects a driver’s ability to comprehend the sign at highway speeds.

So add that to this bizarre story: The federal “font police” have arrived.

Cuomo’s administration has proposed taking down the roughly 400 smaller signs but wants the federal government to allow more than 100 motherboard signs across the state. That seems like a reasonable compromise. Neither side has looked particularly responsible during this flare-up. Both sides should look for a fitting way out.

Online: https://pojonews.co/2PMjdUk

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Newsday on Brett Kavanaugh

Sept. 17

Confirming a Supreme Court nominee is an intensely political process. That’s certainly been the case with Brett Kavanaugh.

But the emergence of a woman willing to testify about her allegations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh when both were teens is a cry to put politics aside. California college professor Christine Blasey Ford deserves to be heard. So does Kavanaugh.

The Senate Judiciary Committee made the correct decision to hold a hearing Monday for both Ford and Kavanaugh to testify in public and under oath; vetting Ford via private phone calls, committee chairman Chuck Grassley’s preference, was never going to be sufficient. And if senators genuinely want the truth, as they claim, they should let outside counsel ask the questions. Political grandstanding to score points in front of TV cameras would only be a distraction.

The extra time also should be used to let the FBI thoroughly vet Ford’s claim. There are gaps and inconsistencies in her accounts. Agents should seek whatever details are available — corroborating evidence, contemporaneous or witness accounts — to try to stop this from devolving into a he-said, she-said battle. We wish Ford’s allegations could have been handled in a more timely fashion, but the most disturbing part of this is the allegations themselves. They can’t be dismissed by saying that sensibilities were different in the 1980s, or that Kavanaugh was only 17 at the time.

And if more time is needed for investigation, the committee should take it. There’s no need to rush. It doesn’t matter whether Kavanaugh is seated when the court’s term begins Oct. 1, or a little later. The court has dealt with having eight justices before — very recently. Republicans certainly weren’t worried about that when they let Merrick Garland’s nomination languish for more than 10 months until Barack Obama was out of office and President Donald Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to fill the late Antonin Scalia’s seat. It’s hypocritical to talk about delays now.

The standard for Kavanaugh is not whether this is a prosecutable case. The test is one of character and credibility. He cannot be voted out of office in two years if found lacking. This is a lifetime appointment. His tenure will have huge impacts on our lives. Getting it right at the start is essential. His credibility during confirmation hearings already has been questioned on matters such as his involvement in the Bush administration’s legal justifications for torture and how much he knew about a computer hack of records belonging to Senate Judiciary Democrats.

Kavanaugh, stunningly, now finds himself being vetted by the American people in the era of #MeToo. There can be no repeat of the debacle with Anita Hill, another professor who came forward in 1991 with allegations of past sexual harassment by then-nominee Clarence Thomas only to be attacked and treated with disrespect by some Judiciary Committee members.

Ford and Kavanaugh will be heard. Basic fairness demands they be treated with respect and that the facts be uncovered. Only then can the Senate, and the American people, decide whether Brett Kavanaugh is worthy of a seat on the Supreme Court.

Online: https://nwsdy.li/2pil3Rv

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